We sat down with Fun Home Costume Designer Jeni Schaefer to find out more about process for this iconic musical based of Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel.
Fun Home is based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel that chronicles her real life. Did you have to look elsewhere for inspiration or was it pretty clear in the book and script how her character should be dressed?
The entire design was definitely inspired by the graphic novel! Alison Bechdel’s images were very important to the entire design team from the start. Her memory was my focus, so I found moments in the novel for each character and every scene they were in and shared those images to our director, Jessica Holt. We only used other period images when clarifying specific silhouettes and color palette.
How does Alison's style change (or not change) as she grows older? How do you make each version of Alison appear different as her sense of identity and consciousness matures?
Again, the graphic novel was my guide. I took images from each phase of her life from the 1970’s as a young girl, 1980’s starting in college, and her present look. Then I designed a color palette/silhouette thru line for the three actors playing Alison.
Which character is most fun to dress?
I've enjoyed giving a look to all the characters, but I think the most fun to create was the “Raincoat of Love” costumes. They are so fun and light-hearted. My assistant, Meg Murray, and I had a lot of Fun reminiscing our favorite childhood tv shows and favorite bands while creating these costumes.
Is there an overarching theme in wardrobe choice for all of the cast members?
I have to say I was very influenced by lines for this design. Everyone in the Bechdel family has some sort of line pattern in their clothing from overt stripes and zig zags, to the more subtle lines in the fabric choices like corduroy. The lines represented for me the confinement each character suffers with, almost like a prison.
As a costume designer, do you find your personal style influences whatever project you’re currently working on?
Oh my goodness no!!! Nobody wants to see Jeni's personal style on stage. I spend a lot of time really thinking about what the character's style would be, what colors they would wear to express themselves, what function their clothes need to serve… things like that. My job is to make sure the actor feels like the character when they put on their costume and not themselves.
Jeni Schaefer is Virginia Stage Company’s Resident Costume Designer and Costume Shop Manager, as well as the Costume Instructor at the GSA’s Theatre Department. She is celebrating her 15th season with Virginia Stage. Regional credits include: A Christmas Story at The Arkansas Rep, The Hound of the Baskervilles at The Hangar Theatre, Always Patsy Cline at PCPA Theatrefest, Tom Jones, In the Book of and Under Six at Florida Studio Theatre. VSC productions to name a few: Peter and the Starcatcher, All my Sons, Grounded, The Tempest, The Great Gatsby, The Comfort Team, The Fantasticks, Death of a Salesman, Red, Radio Golf, A Raisin in the Sun, Around the World in 80 days, Wit, Crowns, Billy Bishop Goes to War, Hank Williams List Highway, The Elephant Man, Of Mice and Men, A Christmas Carol and To Kill a Mocking Bird. Jeni Schaefer holds a Master of Arts in Communication/Theatre in Costume Design from Wichita State University.
Alison Bechdel’s iconic graphic novel comes to life in this Tony Award-winning masterpiece musical. Follow her journey of self-discovery as Alison recounts the mysteries of her childhood with her father in the family funeral home. Coming to understand her past leads her on a path of self-discovery and her own journey as an LGBTQ writer, artist, and woman. Join Virginia Stage for this groundbreaking musical enjoyed by play and musical lovers alike that brings forward aspects of our society that do not often take center stage.